Swim England

A nation swimming

New ‘Swimming as Medicine’ video launch with Chartered Society of Physiotherapy

The latest video in the ‘Swimming as Medicine’ series, which focuses on physiotherapy, has been launched by Swim England and supported by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

The aim of this video is to further highlight to physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals, just how powerful being active in water can be for individuals with complex health problems and rehabilitation needs.

As a whole, the Swimming as Medicine series has been created to encourage those healthcare professionals to consider recommending swimming and aquatic activity to their patients as an effective way of improving health and wellbeing.

This is the second video of the series and follows on from the initial launch, which was done alongside the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) and featured Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi and his patient, Darren Whitley.

Physiotherapist, Joanne Pritchard, features this time around along with some of her patients who swim together regularly at an MS Society swim group in Retford.

Joanne specialises in supporting people with neurological conditions, amongst others, and regularly supports her patients to be more active through activities such as Pilates, but also through swimming, and explains the benefits of the activity.

She said: “I started teaching physically disabled swimmers at the age of 16. Watching their abilities in the water compared with difficulties on land sparked my interest in neurological physiotherapy as a career.

“Thirty years on, I regularly recommend swimming, aquatic activity, and aquatic physiotherapy to patients to work on their strength, flexibility, balance, movement, and for ongoing exercise.

“I would strongly encourage other physiotherapists to consider aquatic activity and swimming for their patients too!”

Sara Hazzard, Associate Director from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, also added: “Swimming and aquatic activity allows people to develop skills to self-manage their condition, maintain a good quality of life and reduce dependence on long-term medication.

“If a patient is able to effectively self-manage by having access to support, from swimming to aquatic activity and aquatic physiotherapy, this reduces their attendance at GP and secondary care services, which is beneficial to both the patient and the healthcare system.”

The videos have been developed following research commissioned by Swim England in 2020, which identified physiotherapists as a key professional group in influencing behaviour change at an individual patient level.

Physiotherapists, along with GPs, nurses and other healthcare professionals, can be a crucial link in highlighting the opportunities and services that exist in the community to help overcome barriers to physical activity participation – and therefore improved health and wellbeing.

Swimming is an important tool in this sense and Sport England’s Active Lives Survey highlights that around 23 per cent of people in England swim at some point each year, making it one of the nations’ most popular forms of activity.

Benefits of swimming and aquatic activity

The benefits of swimming and aquatic activity are numerous, but particularly for those receiving support from a physiotherapist.

Being active in water is often recommended for people with a range of long-term health conditions or impairments for a number of reasons.

These include the buoyancy experienced in water, which helps to reduce the strain on painful joints normally experienced from weight bearing activity.

Water also provides a constant flow of resistance against the body, which can help to improve strength and balance. In addition, because of these unique benefits, movement in water is often easier to adapt if someone has a disability.

The benefits to mental health also cannot be ignored and previous Swim England research has found that swimmers experience significant reductions in depression and anxiety, resulting in fewer visits to healthcare professionals and reduced reliance on medication.

However, despite the clear benefits to individuals and communities, swimming is an option that can still be overlooked and so it is hoped this series will raise awareness of the importance of swimming, exercise in water and services such as aquatic physiotherapy.

As with all of the ‘Swimming as Medicine’ videos, individuals are directed to Swim England’s Poolfinder tool, which contains information on thousands of pools across the country.

Healthcare professionals or their patients can use Poolfinder to search for local pools that have the right support in place to meet their needs, for example; dementia friendly swimming or aquatic physiotherapy support in warm water hydrotherapy pools.

The national governing body are keen to see the videos being used in healthcare settings and online resources. Healthcare organisations can get in touch via health@swimming.org to request downloads and guidance around use.

There is also a wealth of information on the benefits of swimming with health conditions, including fact sheets on swimming with specific health conditions.

To find out more, visit the Swim England health and wellbeing hub.